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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1995 Issue #34 

That is the $64,000 Question
by: Thomas Edward Bratter, President
John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Everyone loves the label of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) because no one is held accountable. The claim that there is some sort of esoteric metabolic disorder, the youth often is excused for impulsive, immature, irresponsible, irritating behavior and, therefore, does not need to accept responsibility for actions and attitudes. Forced to teach from a sterile and obsolete curriculum teachers, who not infrequently are boring and burned out, escape blame. Parents, preoccupied with personal problems and pursuing their own goals, are excused for being too busy to help their children learn self-control and discipline. Psychiatrists retain a monopoly because only they can medicate. Labeling ignores frightening attempts by neuro- psychiatrists to attribute dysfunction to the unproven assumption there is a metabiotic imbalance which can be treated medically. Most schools of psychiatry emphasize biochemical cures rather than helping psychiatric interns become sophisticated clinicians who ask realistic questions before rendering an assessment. The 1990's will be remembered when, Better living through chemistry became their rallying call. Ritalin has played a prominent part in this Revolution. 

What is significant and scary are the diagnostic criteria for gifted and hyperactive are similar. Common sense questions can provide insight such as: Does the distraction occur because there is insufficient intellectual stimulation? What causes these disruptions? Are there realistic explanations for behavior patterns or does it appear the adolescent is out of control? Does doing multiple tasks challenge or frustrate?  I cannot recall ever working with an ADHD adolescent whom I thought was not blessed by superior intellectual, intuitive, and creative potential. 

Generally ADHD is based on the complaints by the school that the adolescent is out of control. The analogy of the school as jail cannot be ignored and assumes an ominous dimension when powerful medication will be prescribed on the basis of teacher observation and complaints rather than careful questioning by psychiatrists. The classroom needs to be transformed from custody, control, conformity to creative communication where thinking skills, rather than memorization, are stressed. It is unfair to students, who are consumers, to ignore their protests that their psycho-social-emotional-moral needs are ignored. The curriculum needs to be expanded from the traditional 3 R's of reading writing, and arithmic to include 7 more: Responsibility, Reality, Respect, Responsiveness, Renewal, Relevance, and Reverence. It needs to be noted this kind of educational reform does not compromise academic standards. Teachers need to be energized to be more passionate, courageous, and committed to active learning. 

The only valid test for ADHD is whether the student can concentrate for more than a half hour without being distracted in any activity. Either the adolescent is ADHD or is not! Concentration is not a selective phenomenon. It is not unusual to discover the student can read quietly for an hour when the topic is of interest or play a music instrument for a long time. The adolescent can listen to music, watch a movie, work on a computer, converse with friends and family members for prolonged periods of time which, if known, would disprove the ADHD diagnosis. Since ADHD claimed to be a disease, how can it be explained that many mature out of and do not need medication, especially after they leave the oppressive-repressive environment of the school? 

The John Dewey Academy is a residential, year- round two years, college preparatory, therapeutic school which works intensively with gifted, self-destructive, adolescents who are 16 to 21. At least a third of the students arrive medicated with the insidious label of ADHD, but learn how not only to cope but also to reverse poor academic records without medication. The Academy maintains an anti-medication policy. Currently, no one is medicated. There are few management problems. Students study not less than three hours a day so they can attend colleges of quality. Positive peer pressure, individual, group, and family counseling help students begin to use, rather than continue to abuse, superior intellectual abilities. John Dewey graduates have made the Dean's Lists at Connecticut College, Georgetown University, Hobart college, College of the Holy Cross, Tufts University, the Universities of Chicago (3), Hartford and Massachusetts, Union, Wellesley, and Williams College (2). This offers irrefutable and compelling evidence that when students are engaged in active learning by being placed in an unrelenting educational environment which demands they can achieve academic excellence, this becomes a positive self-fulfilling prophesy that such an ambitious goal is realistic. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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